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Building nutrition toolboxes one less Mountain Dew at a time

Building nutrition toolboxes one less Mountain Dew at a time

Marnie Clay, assistant professor of Nutrition

After 20 years working as a registered dietitian, Marnie Clay, assistant professor of Nutrition, brings her knowledge to the classroom, helping launch Fort Lewis College’s latest Health Sciences degree in Nutrition.

Marnie Clay sits in the corner of the classroom, as Rotem Ishay teaches by a projector.
Marnie Clay looks on as Rotem Ishay, lab coordinator, demonstrates how to make hummus in Clay's Nutritions & Culture class.

“Nutrition is just applied biochemistry,” Clay said. “As the base of any good, healthy lifestyle, it has an impact on disease prevention and treatment, as well as on mental health, quality of life, and longevity.”

With options to choose a major or minor in Nutrition, students can take the courses they need to pursue internships, graduate school, and ultimately careers as registered dietitians, nutritionists, food service managers, or wellness specialists. Clay said these professions work with various people, from those who simply want to play with their grandkids to athletes aiming to take their performance to the next level.

“As dietitians, we examine how healthier eating can help with mobility and weight loss, to name a few goals,” Clay said. “Nothing excites me more than helping someone make a real behavioral change that leads them to accomplishing their dreams.”

In Clay’s Introduction to Human Nutrition, classes revolve around examining food labels. For instance, she’ll have everyone pull up the label of their favorite sweetened beverage. For each gram of added sugar, she’ll hand out sugar cubes. When they see the pyramid of cubes piling up in front of them, that’s when the lightbulb goes off, Clay said.

“Later, I’ll hear the student say they’re not going to drink Mountain Dew, or they switch from Red Bull to coffee without sugar,” Clay said. “Students take Intro to Nutrition because of a spark of interest. Then they’ll tell me that it’s the most practical course they’ve ever taken. Whether they’ve never thought about nutrition, they’re an avid label reader, or student athlete, class is designed so that there’s something for everyone.”

Another class that has become a student favorite is Clay’s Nutrition & Culture. Faculty and community members from China, India, Israel, and other far-flung places visit Clay’s class to teach students how to make chai, whip up hummus, or season Asian cuisine. For the final project, students choose a country to research cultural influences that affect that country’s foodscape.

“The goal of the class is for students to leave with a sense of cultural humility, to be open to learn, share, and connect, and understand that food is at the heart of it all,” Clay said. “One concern in nutrition is that it’s not historically a very diverse profession. We’re positioned to make this program what we want it to be: a more diverse dietetic and nutrition program designed for all.”

Fruit & Veggie Bucks

Besides teaching nutrition courses, Clay is also helping lead a fruit and veggie prescription program in partnership with the Old Fort.

Starting in August 2023, students can visit FLC’s Student Health or Counseling centers to receive prescriptions for fruit and veggie “bucks” to be used at the Farm Stand on campus. They’ll trade their veggie bucks in for a produce grab bag with an educational message crafted by Nutrition students, who will also be conducting surveys and program evaluations so they’re receiving real-life professional experience.

Supported by the Sustainability Initiative and Rocky Mountain Health grants, the program will run for 12 farmers' markets.

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